About this project
I believe in developing technologies that help everyday people at affordable prices. In particular, we all would like to keep our refrigerated and frozen foods fresher for longer periods of time. The only reliable way of doing this is to vacuum pack your food in air-tight containers or re-sealable vacuum bags. The problem is that existing vacuum food bags are expensive, ranging from 27 cents to 45 cents per bag, depending on the vendor. At such prices the bag can sometimes cost more than the food you wish to preserve. Adding to this cost is the price of machinery required to vacuum pack specialty vacuum bags, which ranges from a few dollars to over a hundred dollars for heat-sealed systems. Finally, existing food vacuum packing systems are inconvenient because they only work with the vendor’s bags. This limitation means that you must make a special trip to those retailers that sell the vendor’s vacuum bag whenever you run out.
Our system, called ThriftyVac®, gives you a better deal. ThriftyVac® is inexpensive (retailing for approximately $25.00 plus shipping) and works with all existing re-sealable plastic bags, regardless of the type of bag or who manufactures it. ThriftyVac® works by using a patented, simple process that evacuates air from ordinary bags without using adapters, heat, or foreign substances.
However, we need your help to bring ThriftyVac® to market. The purpose of this project is to raise enough money to pay for production tooling and to purchase an initial supply of ThriftyVac® components.
The Best Home Vacuum-Packing System at Any Price
ThriftyVac® is a better vacuum packing solution at any price because it does things that other systems simply cannot do. Specifically, ThriftyVac® lets you vacuum pack food bags of any size by just changing out the gallon-size bag that comes with the system, for a bigger one. (You can change out bags in just 10 seconds, by hand, without using any tools at all.) There is no limit in size. This is illustrated in the photo below in which all of the outer bags are bigger than our standard gallon-size bag.
You can quickly change from one size outer bag to another size bag.
The capability to vacuum pack any size food bag is important when you want to vacuum pack large flat items like pizzas. The photos below show a large pizza lying on top of an extra-large zipper bag, and leftover pizza inside a gallon-size food bag that ThriftyVac® has just vacuum-packed.
The industrial-grade check valve in ThriftyVac® lets you draw the strongest possible vacuum on your food bags. In fact, the reason we made the Housing out of high-strength polycarbonate plastic (the same plastic used in bullet-proof windows) was to avoid crushing the Housing when you drew the maximum vacuum level of 100Kpa – the Housing may bend, but it will not break.
Outdoors-people involved in camping, traveling, hunting, fishing, etc. can preserve freshness without power using the lightweight ThriftyVac® solution. For example, you can preserve the freshness of that left-over bacon by placing your bacon in any bag, of any size, and simply pumping out the air.
Why are re-sealable vacuum bags so expensive?
Makers of re-sealable plastic bags have successfully developed small, flat one-way air valves (called “check valves”) that can be embedded in the sides of ordinary plastic bags. These ingenious little check valves turn ordinary re-sealable plastic bags into “vacuum bags” that can be evacuated after the bags are closed by pumping air out through the check valves. However, incorporating check valves in every bag increases the cost. Further, vacuum bags typically employ low-permeable materials such as nylon in the sides of their bags to enhance vacuum retention. (A notable exception was the Handi-Vac bag made by Reynolds that had polyethylene walls.) Such materials are more expensive than the polyethylene used in most conventional plastic bags. Finally, all specialty vacuum bags must have textured walls that provide air paths to the vacuuming mechanism. Incorporating all of these features and materials into a vacuum bag increases bag cost from 5 cents to as much as 45 cents. For this reason, sales of vacuum food bags have languished.
The good news is that ThriftyVac®’s patented technology (US Patent # 7818948) eliminates the need for check valves, textured walls, special seals, and special materials. This allows you to vacuum any bag you choose, and allows manufacturers to produce less expensive vacuum bags (that is, bags having air-tight seals, but none of the other features) should they so desire.
What does ThriftyVac® do differently?
There are two ways of evacuating air from plastic bags – you can either pump it out or you can press it out. Conventional systems pump the air out of bags. Our system uses atmospheric pressure to press air out of bags. To envision such a system, you have to think outside the bag. Specifically, with ThriftyVac®, you insert food bags inside a larger, outer re-sealable plastic bag that does all the work. When you draw a vacuum on the outer bag, it collapses onto the food bag inside it, thereby pressing the air out of the food bag. The only apparatus needed inside the outer bag (besides the food bag itself) is a "housing" that forces the outer bag to collapse on the seal of the food bag in a consistent manner, and allows users to manually close the seal of the food bag at the desired vacuum level.
The only apparatus needed outside the outer bag is a vacuum pump. Finally, the only other component needed is a small black check valve that prevents air from reentering the outer bag during the vacuum packing process. It’s just that simple.
Eliminating the check valves that are embedded in current-day vacuum bags (along with all the special materials and extra manufacturing steps required) reduces the retail price of the vacuum bag from an average of 37 cents to an average of only 8 cents, a savings of 25 cents per bag. Further, eliminating the check valve eliminates a possible air leakage path, thereby making vacuum bags that don’t have check valves more reliable than comparable vacuum bags that do have check valves.
What were the challenges in developing the ThriftyVac® System?
Although the final design of the ThriftyVac® system is simple and easy to use, it has taken several years involving numerous design iterations to get there. This evolution is illustrated in the series of timeline photos provided below showing five generations of ThriftyVac® designs. For clarity, the gallon-size zipper bag that serves as a flexible vacuum chamber, and which encloses the ThriftyVac® Housing, is omitted from these photos. Each photo includes a brown egg to show scale.
ThriftyVac® Development Timeline
Figure 2 depicts the first generation of ThriftyVac® Housings.
All of the first-generation ThriftyVac® assemblies employed a manually operated vacuum pump that connected to the back of the ThriftyVac® Housing through a rubber hose. The sole function of the first prototype Housing, dated January, 2009 was to prevent the outer bag (a gallon-size zipper bag) from collapsing on the vacuum exhaust port, thereby prematurely stopping the vacuuming process before the food bag was fully evacuated. This cardboard and wooden model revealed the actual biggest problems that the Housing had to address – how to prevent the outer bag from (1) prematurely closing the seal on the food bag being vacuumed, and (2) distorting the food bag seal so much that air leaked back into the food bag after the food bag was removed from the outer bag. Accordingly, virtually all subsequent prototypes incorporated inclined “sealing ramps” that limited the force that the outer bag exerted on the seal of the food bag, and which helped the outer bag collapse more uniformly onto the food bag seal without distorting it. All of these first-generation prototypes assumed that the food bag was open along full length. Accordingly, all such Housings had wide sealing ramps.
Figure 3 shows the second generation of ThriftyVac® Housings that reflects our first “ah ha” moment on how to make the system work better.
We realized that we did not have to close the entire length of the food bag’s seal, but only the last inch, because you could close most of the seal before inserting the food bag into the gallon-size outer bag. This breakthrough in thinking allowed us to reduce the size of the sealing ramp and hence the size of the entire assembly. Further, this change meant that the system could vacuum pack any size food bag by just increasing the size of the outer bag. Since we no longer needed to confine the food bag within the length of the sealing ramp, we were able to eliminate the left side wall of the Housing. After making this change, we experimented with various sealing ramp designs, trying to find one that consistently closed the food bag at just the right moment, without distorting its seal. The Housing labeled August 2010 and May 2011 were designed specifically to vacuum pack sliding zipper food bags wherein the outer bag forced the sliding zipper closed as it collapsed under vacuum.
Figure 4 shows the third generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes that reflected our second “ah ha” moment – we realized that we could use the “arm” on the left side of the sealing ramp to create a “sealing channel” that would force the outer bag to collapse onto the seal of the food bag the same way every time. We just had to make the sealing channel wide enough to accommodate the seals of different food bags.
The two wooden models incorporated battery-powered vacuum pumps that proved too slow to be practical. We experimented with designing the new “sealing channel” to work with sliding-zipper food bags as well as press-to-seal food bags. We wanted the ThriftyVac® assembly to either automatically close the sliding zipper, or allow the user to close the zipper after the vacuum process was finished. Our next “ah ha” moment occurred when we discovered that we could actually vacuum pack sliding-zipper bags starting with the zipper fully closed: our system was powerful enough to evacuate air from a closed zipper bag. From that point on we stopped treating sliding-zipper bags as special cases, vastly simplifying our design requirements.
Figure 5 shows the fourth generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes that feature high-quality, commercially-available check valves.
Check-valves prevent re-entry of air during the vacuum-packing process, thereby yielding a tighter vacuum. Previously we thought that such check valves were prohibitively expensive since we would have to customize them to work with our system. The “ah ha” moment occurred when we realized that we could integrate barb-type check valves into our system with changes so minor that manufacturers could make them using existing production tooling. (The only catch was we had to order production runs of 10,000 or more parts because our modifications required altering the normal setup.) In the ThriftyVac® system, the check valve not only lets you vacuum pack your food quicker and interrupt the process at any time you wish without losing vacuum, but they also tie the system together and provide a convenient mounting point for the vacuum pump.
Figure 5 also shows our custom-designed, high-capacity vacuum pump, which was needed to quickly evacuate the large outer bag. The beauty of this custom design was that it consisted of only four parts, which were assembled without using adhesives or any screw-type mechanisms.The only problem was cost. New production tooling was needed to create the plunger and end caps. Further, since our initial production quantities would be low, cost per part would be high. Thus our custom pump design was an engineering success but an economic failure – we needed a more economical solution.
Figure 6 shows the fifth generation of ThriftyVac® prototypes.
The final design is marked by a bright red cherry. This generation of prototypes focused on improving the reliability and durability of the system.Specifically, we wanted the system to work reliably, regardless of how much (or how little) food you put in the bag. Durability was important because even though you can replace the gallon-size bag any time you wish, we wanted the outer bag to last for at least 100 operations before showing wear. To reliably evacuate air from lightly-filled food bags, we had to extend the left side of the Housing by four inches. To prevent the Housing from stretching or puncturing the outer bag, we had to put generous radii on all edges of the sealing channel arm. Finally, after months of searching, we found a commercially-available high-capacity vacuum pump that could be modified to work with our system. That pump is shown on the right side of the photo.
The sequence of design generations described above illustrate an important characteristic of so-called “breakthrough” innovations – they typically require not just one “ah ha” moment, but a whole string of them.I have found this to be the case in every innovation that I have brought to market.
Photos of the Complete System
Figures 7 through 9 give close-up views of the ThriftyVac® system and its components.
Figure 10 provides a close-up view of the vacuum pump and check valve, with a cherry included to show scale.
The barb on the white stem of the check valve allows the check valve to be pressed through the mating hole in the Housing, but not come back out unless you intentionally pulled it out (in case you want to replace the gallon-size outer bag, for example).
Figure 11 shows the ThriftyVac® Housing inside the gallon-size bag that acts as the flexible vacuum chamber.
Figure 12 shows a bag of salmon just after it has been vacuum packed, and still residing inside the ThriftyVac® system.
Figure 13 shows the vacuum-packed bag of salmon removed from the ThriftyVac® system.
Finally, Figure 14 gives a close-up view of the ThriftyVac® Housing and check valve, complete with cherry.
Some Backers have asked for a ThriftyVac® accessory for vacuum packing liquids such as sauces, stews, and chili. In response, we announced the ThriftyVac® Mason Jar Lid, that will be given to all backers if we reach the stretch goal level of $35,000.
What are the challenges to bringing the ThriftyVac® system to market?
Bringing ThriftyVac® to market requires the following investments:
procuring tooling to produce the components of the system (the housing and rubber boot that attaches to the bottom of the vacuum pump)
designing the product packaging and producing tooling to manufacture the product packaging
ordering an initial supply of housings, vacuum pumps, check valves, gallon-size bags, and product packaging
promoting product awareness and sales
The above cost total $25,000, and that is what we seeking through this KickStarter project.
How you can help
We would like your financial support needed to bring this product to market. What we are offering in return is described in the section, “Rewards to Backers.”
Aside from your financial support, we would also like your early and often feedback on your experiences, and suggestions for improvements
Finally, we would also like for you to be evangelists (or advocates) for the ThriftyVac® system, once we win you over with its utility, reliability, and ease-of-use.
ThriftyVac® gives you the best performing and most economical way of vacuum packing food, at a retail price of approximately $25.00 (plus shipping). ThriftyVac® works on every re-sealable plastic bag that you have in your home, both slider-zipper and press-to-seal bags. At an average price difference of 25 cents per bag between special vacuum bags and regular re-sealable bags, ThriftyVac® makes it economical for you to vacuum pack those small portions of leftovers – rather than tossing them out or consuming unneeded calories.
About The Inventor
Tom Cannon has a knack for applying basic science to do amazing things.Case in point, he invented ThriftyVac® by thinking “outside the bag” and focusing on pressing air out of the food bag versus sucking air out (which made the task much easier). Tom has applied his “back-to-basics” approach to invent (1) the optical connector that sent firing signal to the Patriot Missile and is now used in the USA’s missile defense system, (2) the ST Connector, the world’s most widely manufactured optical connector, and (3) a variety of devices that keep our military people safer and make our domestic lives more enjoyable. He has taught classes at Purdue University (where he got his Ph D) and Stanford University (where he got his MS degree in Management as a Sloan Fellow). Tom’s fundamental approach to life is reflected in his book, “Survival Routines for Professionals,” (Prentice-Hill, 1988) which was written to help employees succeed on new jobs. Tom relishes the roles of teacher and coach and can give you succinct insights on topics ranging from raising children (“All puppies are cute”), to recruiting top talent (“Never overlook a diamond when you’re panning for gold”). Tom is also an accomplished athlete, having won three national track and field titles and carried the Olympic Torch for a full week during the 1984 Olympic Torch Relay from New York to Los Angeles. In 1999 Tom was inducted into the Unites States Corporate Athletic Association Hall of Fame.Tom also claims to play golf. His golf adventures (or misadventures) led him to invent “BonusYards,” a golf club attachment that helps golfers set their driver at the perfect angle to drive the ball further off the tee.
Risks and challenges
The biggest project risk is any delay that might occur in manufacturing the tooling that will mold the ThriftyVac® housing. I learned from my previous experiences that mold manufacturers give priority to their largest customers and sometimes smaller customers such as me slip downward in the queue. To minimize such occurrences, I nail down the specifics of exactly what will be delivered where, and when, using specific delivery dates, not relative times.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
Support this project
- (30 days)